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Tips for recommending veterinary dentals without the "icky" selling feeling

Posted in Festival of All Things Dental @ Aug 14th 2014 - By Dr Liz Chmurycz, Russell Vale Animal Clinic
Tips For Recommending Veterinary Dentals

It is without dispute that veterinarians and their team are an integral part of every animal’s life – whether the animal is a cow, horse, dog, cat  or even a mouse.

It is also well recognised, these same noble professionals do not see themselves as “salespeople” and therefore hate the “icky  feeling” of “selling procedures”. 

Sensitive, caring veterinarians may begin to believe that many pet owners agree with the noisy but minority media who claim that  pet dentistry is pure revenue raising, and therefore, unnecessary.  

At the 2014 AVA Vet Conference a question was asked in the context of the media scrutiny of veterinary dental procedures “How can we recommend dentals without seeming that we are selling?”. 

What is your experience with disease of any kind? 

Does it go away on its own?  Or does it need to be diagnosed and treated appropriately.

Starting dental treatment plans early can save the teeth (and health) of many pets. If we acknowledge that oral disease is painful, then how could we ignore it?

We can’t ignore the damage the media has done, and instead of accepting responsibility for it, they pat themselves on the back for a job well done.

Have a good hard think about this hypothetical scenario:  “All pets do not receive any dental care throughout their lives”.

Now imagine that you are examining the mouths of these pets five years, ten years later?  How do you think this scenario will play out?

You just need common sense to understand the outcome, not a veterinary degree.

The clock will be turned back to the dark ages of “trench mouths” – those mouths which end up as a “clearance sale”, where all teeth must go. Our pets will have kidney, liver and heart disease, and geriatric medicine books will collect dust.

The hard part to bear is that our pets will be in pain during the years until they receive treatment.  

Or worse, our pets would receive no treatment whatsoever until the day they die.

As veterinarians, we have seen untreated mouths - we see those pets that come into be euthenased when 10, 11 years old or even 15 or more, whose last vet visit was when they were six months old (when they were desexed).  

What do their mouths look like?  It is not a pretty sight.  All GP vets have seen it, and it breaks our hearts, and hurts our spirit.   And there is not a journalist in sight writing about this.

So, knowing what the alternative scenario is, why does the discussion of a “dental” or even dental care in general, seem like selling?

I have felt the “icky selling” feeling when the pet I am examining has dental disease (mild or severe). The icky feeling isn’t because I need to start selling an unnecessary procedure, but because I am faced with a serious dental issue, but the presenting complaint is something else.

The owner only cares about what they brought their pet in for, not the “extra things wrong” that you found in your thorough examination. And as a result, the pet owner is unlikely to be receptive to the dental information, unless it is handled carefully.

As it is an issue that the owner did not come in with, we feel like we are “selling a dental” if we steer the talk away from the pet owner’s primary concern to their pet’s oral health.

Another scenario is the pet that has been coming to see a vet every year for their vaccinations, but not a single mention of dental care or dental disease in the first few years, and suddenly there is dental disease that needs treatment.

8 Tips for stopping the “icky feeling” of selling:

Tip 1: Start from the first visit

Start talking about dental care from the very first puppy/kitten visit, and at every visit thereafter. If the teeth are normal, and look healthy, make a big point of saying so.  By setting yourself up this way, it will not seem strange in the future for you to be discussing dental health when they are older.

Tip 2: Educate owners

Educate the owners on what a healthy mouth truly looks like at every vet visit.

Tip 3: Communicate clearly when you first see a problem

When you recognise the dental problem, let the owners know that there is a problem in the mouth that needs addressing, and it can’t be ignored. A classic example is the fractured tooth.

Tip 4: Acknowledge the dental issue may not be the reason for the visit

Acknowledge that the pet owner did not bring in the pet for that reason, but that  the dental problem is still an important thing to address in the very near future

Tip 5: Address the original issue but don't ignore the dental issue

Advise the owner that you will assess and treat the problem that they came in for, and book them in for a free dental check in “X weeks” time to address the dental issue. 

Tip 6: Build a 'dental culture' in your practice

Have a practice ethos of “dental checks” all year around. 

Tip 7: NEVER feel guilty for educating your clients

Do not ever feel guilty for educating the pet owner about how to care for their pet. Of all the sources of information that is available to the modern pet owner, they are there in your consultation room for a very good reason – it is because they need you to be there for them.

Tip 8: Communicate your passion

Communicate your passion for your animals and for what you do as a veterinarian

Our pets need us to be the voice for their welfare.  All of us sensitive souls feel the “icky selling feeling” but recognising this, and having a system in place to deal with that, is a win-win for everyone, especially our animals. 

If you'd like to ask Dr Liz a question about how she recommends dentals in her practice - just add it to the comments section below.

Dr Liz Chmurycz is a  companion animal veterinarian, based at Russell Vale Animal Clinic, in Wollongong, Australia. As a solo vet and business owner, she is also a mother of four children. She is passionate about the veterinary profession, and the animals she sees. 

You can read Dr Liz's Blog here: Dr Liz...the vet from Russell Vale Animal Clinic

Like 'Russell Vale Animal Clinic' on Facebook, click here to follow Dr Liz on Twitter - Russell Vale Vets 


lisa blair @ Aug 24th 2014 7:13pm
Thanks Judy and Liz, this is a great resource and reminder for our team

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